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So you want to be a manager? Questions to ask before seeking that promotion

Are you an aspiring manager? Do you feel the pull towards leadership?

In this article, Petia Tzanova, =mc Learning and Development Consultant draws on her extensive career to outline key considerations when taking your first step into management.  If you’re undecided whether a management role is the right move for you, then use this guide to help you work out your options.

In the non-profit sector we often consider management as the inevitable next step if we want to grow and progress in our career. And although becoming a manager can be incredibly rewarding, it’s not for everyone and isn’t the only way to progress in a profession.

If you are ready, it’s crucial to reflect on whether management is truly the right path for you. Believe you me, your future team and self will thank you for it.

I’ve pulled together some questions you can ask yourself to help you decide if management is the right next step for you.

1. Motivation

What’s driving my interest in management? Is it the desire for greater responsibility? Is it for better pay or benefits that might come with the job? Is it about career advancement? What about my long-term career goals – what are they and how would management fit into them? Where do my strengths lie and do those strengths align with the skills needed for effective management?

Our advice: Whilst management does usually enable career progression and often has financial incentives attached to it, it’s absolutely not the only way to grow in your role; in fact sometimes it can even be a hindrance. I’ll give you an example – say you’d like to gain a deeper level of specialism in a particular technical skill, management responsibilities might not be the best way to enable that. Start by considering your career aspirations for the future and whether you’re more interested in managing people, resources or projects as opposed to being really fantastic at a technical skill, possessing specialist knowledge or providing a high-quality service. The joy of management is the impact you can have by being part of the bigger picture.

2. Achievement through others

Am I comfortable achieving results through the efforts of my team; rather than solely through my own work? Do I like supporting others through coaching, teaching, training or motivating them to achieve their objectives? How much independence do I thrive on? Will I be comfortable relinquishing a degree of control to empower my team?

Our advice: This is one of the biggest changes that comes with taking on management responsibilities as it pivots you from focusing on your own work and how to do it well to  supporting the work of a team you are accountable for. In many smaller organisations you’ll still have a fair amount of your own output to manage but as you progress to managing larger teams, you’ll increasingly be focused on increasing your team’s impact and performance.

Often we might get promoted into management because we’ve excelled at a particular skill or set of skills. We might get a lot of purpose and enjoyment from doing that. Management might therefore mean doing less of that while concentrating on developing the skills and responsibilities needed to lead others. There is a lot of satisfaction in supporting others to be brilliant, shifting your energy away from practical tasks to focus on the needs of the people we are there to develop.

3. Interpersonal/relational skills and emotional intelligence

How do I relate to other people? Am I genuinely interested in building close working relationships with people? Can I listen deeply and motivate others? How emotionally intelligent am I? Can I handle challenges, conflicts and difficult conversations with honesty, grace and empathy or does confrontation make me want to run away?

Our advice: While you don’t have to be a line-manager (you can for example matrix-manage projects or processes instead), it’s almost inevitable that as a manager you’ll be spending more of your time working closely with other people. If you’re managing a larger team you’ll have a variety of personalities, approaches, motivations and needs that you’ll need to juggle and provide individualised support to. Is that something that excites you or fills you with dread?

The realities of management is that we often need to have honest conversations that can be challenging. This might mean giving bad news to colleagues, advocating or taking responsibility for unpopular decisions that might be outside our control, sharing feedback that’s hard to hear or resolving poor performance. These are all key skills that you can develop with self-awareness, persistent practice and good training – however there has to be a desire to want to engage with the more challenging side of management too. Great managers accept this reality, and make every effort to handle this challenge in the most human way possible.

4. Attitude toward meetings

How do I feel about attending and leading meetings? Am I prepared to spend a lot more time in them as a manager? How would my energy and motivation be impacted by regular back-to-back meetings?

Our advice: There’s no doubt that regardless of your organisation’s culture, management undoubtedly leads to a big increase in meetings. This might involve 1:1s, catch-ups, performance reviews, discussions around recruitment, team meetings, strategy meetings, coaching conversations, exit interviews and of course meetings with your own manager too. Two close friends recently confessed to me that since becoming senior managers, 80% of their working week is now filled with consecutive meetings – and it’s certainly a different experience. Think about how that change might affect you, especially if you’re someone who gets energised by working on tasks alone. Lots of managers relish this, and enjoy the collaboration and exploration that comes from being in meetings.

5. Bureaucracy and administration

How do administrative tasks currently affect my energy levels? Can I manage the paperwork and bureaucracy that comes with management?

Our advice: Whatever the size of the organisation, management is likely to bring with it some new administrative responsibilities. Indeed, many non-management roles have their fair share of admin too. Very few non-profit managers outside of senior leadership receive additional admin support, so it’s likely you’ll have to take this on. This might include ordering equipment for a new starter, organising induction or making sure they have the right login for their email, to dealing with signing off annual leave, sick forms or managing a staff member’s parental leave. There might be help from your HR or People Teams if your organisation has them but you will still need to lead and carry out the legwork. You might also have to navigate archaic and complex systems that are not fit-for-purpose.

As a manager though you will be responsible for such systems, or be able to influence or design these systems yourself. Either way it’s unlikely that managers can ever fully escape the administrative avalanche that comes with leading a team.

6. Relationship with authority

How do I view authority? Am I comfortable providing direction and support to others? Am I relaxed in leading teams, making decisions and taking responsibility for the outcomes? Can I delegate tasks that perhaps I still enjoy doing? Can I set healthy boundaries when it comes to supervising former colleagues who are also my friends? Can I still be ‘me’ now that I’m a manager?

Our advice: This is about you as a person because while attitudes to power and hierarchy do vary widely across our sector, we can’t ignore the fact that as a people manager, we take on a degree of responsibility for someone else’s working life. You may need to create new professional boundaries when you are a manager, but that doesn’t mean you have to change who you are. Many of us will know the colleagues we enjoy working with are those who display humour, warmth, integrity and honesty. Unsurprisingly they usually make effective managers. Before embarking on management, being aware of and improving working relationships can help ease the route into management without compromising on your identity.

7. Timing

Is now the right time for me to step into management considering my personal and professional circumstances? Am I prepared for the shifts in my work life that will come with management such as increased meeting and administration time and learning essential new skills?

The decision is yours: Ultimately becoming a manager is deeply personal and should be made with careful consideration of your skills, values, and career goals, as opposed to something that simply ‘comes next’. Management is incredibly rewarding and provides plenty of opportunities for growth. However, it’s not the only path to a fulfilling and successful career.

Don’t be afraid to ask yourself some of the questions above and reflect honestly on your motivations and interests to help you make an informed decision.

What if it’s not right for me? 

What if it isn’t? That’s absolutely ok. You can still be a voice of influence who inspires your team. Consider too if there are opportunities to specialise more deeply or become a thought leader in your chosen area? Could you move laterally and learn something new that opens up new prospects? Or do you need to consider moving on? There are also options around becoming a consultant or pursuing a freelance or portfolio career. Working with a career coach can also help you navigate some of the options available and develop an action plan. Alternatively you could find a mentor whose career you really admire and who has chosen not to follow the management route and ask them to share their experience.

However if you DO feel ready for management then go for it the non-for-profit sector needs brilliant managers like you more than ever. And if helpful, some further questions you can ask yourself are: do I want to manage people, processes, or projects? What aligns best with my skills and interests? What kind of training and support will I need to excel in a managerial role?

What next?

I really hope this advice helps answer any queries you might have. If you’re keen on climbing a very rewarding ladder, we run separate Emerging Managers and Aspiring Managers training programmes which are tailor-made for people looking to take the next steps. You can click on the link to your right for more details or call +44 (0) 20 7978 1516 if you’d like to set-up a chat with me or one of the trainers.

Alternatively, perhaps our Assertive Conservations programme might be something to consider. This course offers techniques on navigating sensitive discussions.

All that remains for me now is to thank you for reading and to wish you the very best of luck in whichever route you take.

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Petia Tzanova

About Petia Tzanova

Petia specialises in leadership, management and project management. She has over 16 years of experience working in the non-profit, arts & culture, higher education and social enterprise sectors. Petia...